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Tuesday, 09 December
2008's Dumbest Song Announced!

Here today on Izzle Pfaff--your go-to blog for when you just simply need to read something with an idiotic name--I'd like to introduce what I hope to turn into an annual feature: I would like to present to you 2008's stupidest song lyrics. THIS YEAR'S BIG WINNER: Indie band The Airborne Toxic Event, for their lyrics to the song "Sometime Around Midnight"!

Let's go right to the honey.

And it starts, sometime around midnight.
Or at least that's when you lose yourself
for a minute or two.
As you stand, under the bar lights.
And the band plays some song
about forgetting yourself for a while.
And the piano's this melancholy soundtrack to her smile.
And that white dress she's wearing
you haven't seen her for a while.

But you know, that she's watching.
She's laughing, she's turning.
She's holding her tonic like a cross
The room's suddenly spinning.
She walks up and asks how you are.
So you can smell her perfume.
You can see her lying naked in your arms.

And so there's a change, in your emotions.
And all these memories come rushing
like feral waves to your mind.
Of the curl of your bodies,
like two perfect circles entwined.
And you feel hopeless and homeless
and lost in the haze of the wine.

Then she leaves, with someone you don't know.
But she makes sure you saw her.
She looks right at you and bolts.
As she walks out the door,
your blood boiling
your stomach in ropes.
Oh and when your friends say,
"What is it? You look like you've seen a ghost."

Then you walk, under the streetlights.
And you're too drunk to notice,
that everyone is staring at you.
You just don't care what you look like,
the world is falling around you.

You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You just have to see her.
You know that she'll break you in two.

Okay, before we even start in on this terrible set of affairs: when a band's title references Don DeLillo's White Noise--surely one of the most respected novels of the past 25 years--one expects to see, lyrically, the A game. What we have here is surely what can only be described, at best, as a band's R game. This is like filming "The Stanley Kubrick Bozack Experiment" and then showing three hours of international test patterns.

And then there's the title: "Sometime Around Midnight." Do you suppose that the band was slyly referencing JJ Cale's "After Midnight"? Or Thelonius Monk's " 'Round Midnight"? Or do you suppose that the title simply reflects the hard sort of thinking that leads to razor-sharp observations such as "the band plays some song" or a white dress that the singer hasn't seen in "a while"? I have my own guesses.

Sonically, it's not a terrible song. It's not a good song, by any means, but it certainly is better than these terrible lyrics. It begins with an oddly downsweeping string figure, whose motif is repeated later in the song when it gets, like, dramatic, man, but by then the lead singer has adopted a particularly strangled style of vocalization that leads the amateur diagnostician to suspect a thoracic fistula, and anyway, by the time you get there, if you've paid attention to what the man has been saying, you're praying for death yourself. But the tune lurches along somewhat compulsively for all that; it wouldn't be out of place on a Coldplay album in a universe where Gwyneth Paltrow let Chris Martin chastely spank her every now and then.

But there's no getting past those lyrics.

The first stanza sets the tone: the singer is a chronic alcoholic! I guess. Which, if you're Brendan Behan is pretty awesome, but if you're, say, anyone else, is pretty terrible. As he stands "under the bar lights"--as opposed to on the bar lights, or inside them--he notices that a band is playing "some song" and then he sees his old girlfriend in a white dress he hasn't seen in "a while." Hey, enough with the excruciating details! We don't need to know everything!

The second verse is actually the least offensive of all of them, and that's saying something, considering it contains the phrase "She's holding her tonic like a cross." Over her shoulder? Nailed to her wrists? Clasped reverentially near her chest? I'm going to go with the last one, because I really enjoy breasts. At any rate, this sort of aimless grope at religious imagery is comically hopeless. It might be my favorite line of all.

Wait, just kidding! Honestly, this is my very favorite line: "And so there's a change, in your emotions." Has a person's mental state ever been so incisively, so pithily described? Why, just the other day, when the wife asked me, "How are you dealing with the death of several of your friends who all perished in a terrible bus accident?" I replied, "There's been a change in my emotions." She nodded her head and said, "I know exactly how you feel."

It's at this point during the song when the listener is forced to ask himself: "Why are the lyrics in the present second person?" And the listener replies to himself: "Because it adds to the horribleness."

This verse is where the frenzy starts. What could the phrase "memories come rushing
like feral waves to your mind" possibly mean? I used to body surf a lot when I was a kid; I never encountered a feral wave. I do like that the singer specifies that the memories rush to "your mind," as opposed to, say, your skin. Another good one is "like two perfect circles entwined." If circles entwine, don't they stop being circles? Listen, I'm not a topologist, though I'm trying. Maybe he wanted "toruses," but didn't want to confuse listeners or doughnut consumers.

Oh, the next verse is another bore, though it doesn't skimp on the inane cliches--"blood boiling," "you look like you've seen a ghost." Hmmm. Niggling point here, but wouldn't someone whose blood was at a boil look exactly the opposite of someone who had seen a ghost? Oh, never mind. This song is terrible. By now, the string figure is in full deployment, and the singer sounds as if he's being eaten feet-first by Nyarlathotep.

And then there's the end, where the singer wails insistently that "You just have to see her" five times, and then concludes that having done that, you know that she'll just "break you in two." Someday, I'm sure Donald Fagen or someone will write some knotty song about being broken into three, or broken into an algebraically complicated set of numbers to be debated by Marilyn vos Sant and the Mythbusters, but for now, you are, once again, forced to deal with being broken in two.

This is really embarrassing.

Listen, I know that there are any number of worthy candidates out there--I can practically hear people screaming "WAIT! What about 'My Humps?' " or whatever (I know, not really on the timeline) and whatnot, but really, what I'm after here is songs that genuinely pretend to be a step above and fail ridiculously. I'm confident in my choice. I'm rubbing my hands, 2009! Don't let me down. I know you won't.

Monday, 07 May
And He Was

I'm back from Chicago, but I'm afraid I just don't have the heart to write a bunch of nasty bullshit about it today. Today we lost Howard Bulson, one of the sweetest men I ever had the privilege to appear on stage with.

Thank God that I didn't have to sing in front of him--God knows he didn't need any more of that misery, although he certainly heard worse in his time. I remember his immaculate white suits; I remember his out-of-time polite courtliness with ladies: once, while smoking with him and a female cast member in the back alley behind the Rendevous, we were set upon by a young guy looking for a smoke. The young guy started a line of patter with the actress, a lot of ridiculous nonsense along the lines of "Damn, girl, you look good! You're a house on fire!" etc. etc. Howard drawled laconically, "Say, who writes your material?"

I remember how, when he showed up for the first musical rehearsal, we told him what material we needed him to play, and after an hour or so, he excused himself. "I've got it," he said, and left. We looked at each other worriedly. This was like worrying that Albert Pujols would forget what a baseball looked like or Carlos Mencia forgetting what it's like to be an intolerable asshole. He showed up at the next rehearsal unruffled and had, in fact, remodulated many of the songs so that they were more easily sung by the cast members. Without being asked to, without suggestion. And, apparently, without effort.

Friday would have been his 73rd birthday. We were going to have such a party in his honor; we knew he was sick, terribly sick. He had pancreatic cancer. But it got him before we could get there. As usual, it wasn't Howard's timing that was off: it was ours. Missed it by that much. If Howard were still here, he'd gently tell us to start over, from the beginning. We'd get it this time. And if we didn't, Howard would say, That's all right. We'll do it again.

We're still going to get together, I think. We have to. It's not a party any more . . . I suppose it's a wake. We'll get together this weekend and celebrate a life, and what a life: a life of behind-the-scenes, a life of accompaniment, a life spent making other people look much better than they might have otherwise. What could be nobler?

Good night, Howard. The songs are still here to be played, but I don't think they're going to sound right any more without you. Come back, and all is forgiven for you having left us. Come back so we can say, That's all right. We'll do it again.

Thursday, 11 January
The Ten Most Embarrassing Songs On My iPod

So this Christmas the wife brought me screaming into 2002 and bought me an iPod. (I had owned an off-brand MP3 player before; it was a blocky little doodad that held about five songs and died in as many months. It was the Benjamin Harrison of MP3 players.) So I've been having a ridiculously good--by which I mean "stupid"--time pillaging my CD collection ("I forgot I owned that! I forgot this band existed!") and iTunes. The latter in particular is very insidious. For 99 cents, you can find practically any stupid fucking song ever recorded . . . sort of. For example, looking up "Maybe I'm Amazed" brings up . . . Jem. From the soundtrack to "The O.C." What? Who cares! It's 99 cents! How bad could it be?

Well . . .

Anyway, like I said, I terrorize iTunes now and again, because, as you will soon see, I'll buy practically anything. Much like, well, everybody.

You know how everyone likes to claim that their musical tastes are "eclectic?" "Oh, I like everything, really." Which is complete bullshit. People may have affinities for certain genres, but by and large, since music is so broad and people are so weird, chances are that they're going to like a lot of other stuff here and there as well. So the fact that I enjoy Lyle Lovett and Alison Krauss a lot does not make me a country fan; it makes me a guy who normally despises country music that happened to find a couple of singular countryish outliers. Everybody has "eclectic" musical tastes, to the extent that everybody can be pleasantly surprised by something unexpected, but it's essentially a meaningless thing we tell ourselves to fool us into thinking we're more broad-minded than we actually are.

This list will also give the lie to any claim I could try and put on the "eclectic" label (and it's a line I've used in the past--it's practically required for college students). I'm pretty obviously just a fan of pop. Oh well. But here are the songs that I am most embarrassed to have on my iPod. And I'm not getting rid of them soon.

10.
"I'm No Angel," Gregg Allman.

It's mainly only embarrassing because, as you will come to see, it's entirely emblematic of my penchant for falling in love with inconsequential, little-heard minor pop near-hits. I don't think it's a bad song qua song, but it's not got a lot going for it either. Fuckers like "I'm No Angel" is why iTunes is so lethal, and why it might ruin some of the coolness of radio in the long run. Over the past ten or fifteen years, I could count on one hand the times I heard this song on the radio, squealing, "Oh, man, I love this weird tune!" Now I can play it whenever I want. That's somehow . . . lamer. I won't again be surprised by this little not-much of a tune, and if I am, it will only be to note, "Oh, weird, I'm hearing this somewhere other than my iPod."

It's kind of charming, though. It's a song about a guy--a guy much like Gregg Allman--who is wooing a woman clearly out of his league. "I might steal your diamonds but I'll bring you gold," he sings, which is not only alarming, but also arguably not a strong economic argument. But my favorite line I find sort of touching. "Come on, baby," he sings, "Come and let me show you my tattoo." Awwwwwwwww. You know he really means it.

9.
"Switchin' to Glide," The Kings

Canadian one-hit-wonders ahoy! Another example of a song I probably heard like five times over the past twenty years, but now I can listen to it over and over until I get some sort of Canadian ear disease. (Though true story: I karaoke'd this song once, and all the plants in the bar died.) What can you say about the Kings? You can say that band members included such names as David Diamond and Mr. Zero! Most bands can't say that! In fact, their keyboard player was named . . . Sammy Keyes!

Another thing you can say is that they recorded this song!

It's just straightforward power pop, but that chorus is some hook, boy. It's mostly that I don't know what I'll have to say to someone if they, for some reason, examine the songs on my iPod and ask me who the fuck the Kings are. You have to realize that I think about things like this.

8.
"Govinda," Kula Shaker

One of the worst things about being an up-and-coming British band must be the realization that, sooner or later, the British musical press might sink their teeth into you. How many shellshocked English bands litter the historical battlefield of musical journalism, lionized by the British press one moment and then eating off-brand dog food a year later? This is what happened to Kula Shaker, an amusing if derivative bunch of fellows who made the sort of music George Harrison would have enjoyed if he had taken a temporal and stylistic left turn and joined Winger. "Govinda" is, typically, an Indian-smushed-into-Beatles vulgar mess, overwrought and overstuffed and overloved by me, at least for a few months at a time.

5-7.
"Since You're Gone," The Cars
"Since You Been Gone," Rainbow
"Since U Been Gone," Kelly Clarkson

So! Did I download these all at the same time or what? Ha!

Yeah. I did. And yes, I do like all these fucking songs.

I don't know if it's some weird neuronal thing, but my brain loves to find stupid connections like this, which leads me to wonder if there's something else going on behind my inexplicable love for songs by a New Wave-y pop band, a metal-ly pop band and a cockapoo. There must be. Once I excitedly called a radio station--who at the time was playing a gimmick set of songs that shared the same title--to inform the nonplussed DJ that Midnight Oil, Depeche Mode, Erasure and My Bloody Valentine all had songs titled "Sometimes"!

"We don't play any of those bands," he said.

4.
"Attack Ships On Fire," Revolting Cocks

Ah, my fake-industrial years. This song is the version from the live CD You Goddamned Son of a Bitch, whose album art features a Wheel of Fortune wheel littered with barely-redacted porn shots and the immortal liner note, "Remember, RevCo is making the world a better place for you and your hog bitch girlfriend."

I was too much of a wimp-o to really be a true industrial fan. (I felt so tough buying an Einstürzende Neubauten album, and secretly hated myself when I found it to be utterly unlistenable. The cover art of an ejaculating horse probably didn't help.) I instead opted for the industrial-lite metallic bleatings of grouches like Nine Inch Nails, Nitzer Ebb (Hi, Rory) and the Revolting Cocks. This song is pure nostalgia for me, and it has the dork appeal of taking its title from Blade Runner.

3.
"Black Betty," Ram Jam

This is actually a Leadbelly song, which is what makes this so deeply embarrassing: I have this and not the Leadbelly version.

Honestly? I could give a shit about the blues. Most of it I find to be a total bore; all those scratchy old recordings, all that tinny warbling over fumbling guitar strangulation. I'm one ignorant motherfucker, I know. I just can't get into it. It's embarrassing.

It's particularly embarrassing, because admitting that you don't like the blues means that you have no appreciation for the basis of rock, and it's embarrassing because it seems vaguely racist, at least to certain way-too-into-it white guys who self-consciously revere their old blues vinyl by unheard-of artists like No-Shoes Davey and Lacks-Proprioception Gavin.

Fine. I admit all of it. I'm a philistine and a schmuck and I have the ears made of wool. Whatever. I just don't care for the blues. I said it.

And as if to prove my worthlessness, I like this idiotic song. I know it's idiotic. I can hear the idiocy. And yet.

2.
"The Difficult Kind," Sheryl Crow

Is there anything quite like the dawning horror of realizing that you really like a song by an artist that you normally wish would just fall off a tall building? Admit it, it's happened to you. I can't even talk about this.

1.
"Find Your Way Back," Starship

Ah, this is hard. Is there any other group that so eagerly and so energetically betrayed the astounding amount of talent and prowess that it exhibited in its early years than Jefferson Airplane? (I also have the fucking outstanding "Volunteers" on my iPod, just to balance things out.) I suppose one could make a case for Rod Stewart, but he's not a group, and plus, after only a few minutes of trying to think about the whole thing, you will probably become a heroin addict.

Why do I like this awful cheese log of a song? Something must have happened to me beyond my conscious level to make me like it, since it is utterly schizophrenic and sounds like the love song a dog would compose after humping a Mr. Potato Head. I truly do not understand it on any level. It's like four horrible songs all taking the same desolate onramp to damnation, with Grace Slick screaming like someone jammed an airhorn into her snatch.

How embarrassed about this song am I? I once skipped past it while I was in the grocery store because I was afraid that someone would figure out what I was listening to from the earbud leakage. But I didn't erase it.

I probably won't for a while. Sigh.

It's not on the list, but "Jane" is on there too. Shit.

Thursday, 05 October
The Wreck Of Edwina And Harold

The legend lives on from the grad students on down
Of the big LARP called Half-Elves Are Gloomy
The LARP it is said took place in a shed
Which was cramped, it was dusty, not roomy.

Harold was there, having braided his hair
And his character was Kells of the Silver
Edwina he met in that dark oubliette
And his heart was captured forever.

Edwina the Dwarf was called Slatherton Tarf
And she wielded a great mighty hammer
Harold and she, they loved fiercely and free
And they shared an adorable stammer.

The questing heroes had astonishing THAC0s
And they ranged from cold west to bright east
Never leaving the shed, out of shame it is said
Fighting kobolds and displacer beasts.

Gelatinous cubes proved to be idiot rubes
That the couple would merrily slaughter
Mind flayers were fought in a psionic onslaught
So to rescue King Devilwind’s daughter.

But Edwina one day announced “I-I’m g-gay,”
Harold was riven and then torn asunder.
“Her name is Leaf Mossy, she’s an Elf and an Aussie
And I’m leaving you, I’m moving down under.”

Edwina moved on and Harold cried on the lawn
Outside the shed that had held their shared passion
He tore at his braids and called out to the shades
Of dead loves as is the Half-Elvish fashion.

Harold grew old and lonely and cold
And he sometimes reminisced of Edwina
Memories of battle and halting Dwarf prattle
Drove him to drink in a lonely cantina.

He died in that bar, a Toyota his car
And he slipped into black with a shiver.
He whispered, they said, “After I’m dead
Remember me, Kells of the Silver.”

The legend lives on from the grad students on down
Of the big LARP called Half-Elves Are Gloomy
The LARP it is said took place in a shed
Which was cramped, it was dusty, not roomy.

Monday, 26 June
Are You Receiving Me?

I'm always fucking grousing about something, aren't I? Let's see if I can write something nice without it being corny or anything. ("Corny"? Hi, I'm Holden Caulfield.)

In 1987 or '88 or so, a high school friend of mine landed some sort of scutty work-study gig at KORT, the lone radio station in my hometown. (He would later go on to do DJ work there on weekends, which was swell for me, as I would hang out with him for hours at the studio, where I diligently screwed BIG MUSIC by taping hundreds of their terrible albums.) Periodically, as some sort of lame perk, KORT would offer their employees a number of the albums--yes, vinyl--that they'd receive from the studios, but that KORT clearly had no intention of ever playing.

One day I was at my friend's house, just hanging out, and he brought out one of these albums and offered it to me. "Do you want this?" he said. "It sucks." A ringing endorsement! He handed it to me--I had never heard of the band, much less this strange, meadow-green-jacketed album. It was called Skylarking by some people--or robots, or sentient foxgloves, for all I knew--called XTC.

You have to understand here--I was growing up in Grangeville, Idaho. My only real sources of music were my parents' collection of '60s and '70s rock--and don't get me wrong, thank God for those albums--and, well, KORT, for whom a real act of radio bravery was to air the likes of Ratt, which I knew the station would never play on Sunday, thanks to my friend. As far as KORT was concerned, most of rock music could call it quits with the arrival of John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, and for the grandmas who querulously mewled for a little classical every now and then, they could always point to the fact that every now and then they played "Chariots of Fire." Probably on Sunday.

So there were--and still are--some fairly massive gaps in my musical education.

I took the thing home without any real expectations. I mean, here was a hopeless album rejected from my radio station as well as my dismissive friend. But I had nothing else to do, so I listened to it at home in my room.

Mother Mary of God, what was this? I don't mean to say that it sounded like transmissions from the Planet of Screaming Dogs or anything outlandish, but . . . what was this? And how could my friend declare flatly that it sucked? If there was anything that Skylarking didn't do was suck. It had--okay, pretty broadly obvious--drug references, comic book characters, and a serious amount of fun with words ("um-bi-lie-cal"?). It also had some fairly strange sonic entries, such as the bizarrely pompous and strangely Autumnal "Sacrificial Bonfire" and the track I instantly fell in love with, the delay-soaked "Another Satellite." It even had a big fuck-you to God that some of you might be familiar with.

I listened to the hell out of that record. I wore that record out. And I got mad. Why the fuck would anyone--let alone a radio station--not play this record? It upset me a lot. And I wasn't even about to go to bat for some of the songs--not being much of a fan of the genre, I can live without the jazz-inflected "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul," and to be honest, I can't at this moment even remember what "Dying" is like. But the rest! How could anyone not want to listen to the relentlessly hooky "That's Really Super, Supergirl"? Look, I'm not trying to hand you a big "THIS CHANGED MY LIFE" thing . . . unless maybe I am. In some small, very personal way . . . fuck it, sure, I guess it did.

After a while, I tentatively started reaching out. I noticed the name "Todd Rundgren" as the producer, and dimly recalled the name from . . . somewhere. Rolling Stone, I'm guessing. So I bought Something/Anything, and while it didn't strike me as forcefully as Skylarking, I was intrigued. This guy is clearly a fucking madman, I thought. (Later I read about the legendarily tumultuous studio sessions that led to Skylarking and my suspicions were confirmed.) I bought a puzzling little double-cassette from XTC called Waxworks/Beeswax, which I was astonished to learn was a collection of their previous singles and B-sides. Astonished because look at all these fucking songs! These guys had been around forever! Who the fuck knew? I practically leaped around my room in joy and befuddlement as the songs unspooled in my stereo, from those spiky, yelping older songs like "This Is Pop" and "Life Begins at the Hop" to some of the later songs that hinted at things to come, like "Making Plans for Nigel." What in the fuck was wrong with the world? Why wouldn't anyone play these songs?

It's still pretty embarrassing that it took me a number of years to figure out that nobody in the rural Pacific Northwest was interested in this stuff in the slightest. My big beef was that KORT was failing to provide the content that the consumer demanded. My big failure in this line of reasoning was, in classic teenage fashion, my inability to recognize that a consumer base of one is always going to lose. (Not that I was likely the only person who was tired of hearing "On the Dark Side." I just didn't have the guts to tell anyone else that the song ate dick, and I had something better to listen to.)

Skylarking, I know this now, led to me branching out, however tentatively at first, but then with increasing boldness--and, typically, with some seriously horrible and misguided results. I hate to lay this at the feet of XTC, but they are in fact directly responsible for how I came to seek out and embrace such a dog's breakfast of bands: to get an idea of how out of my depth I was, let me list some resultant bands that I sought out in my new, fevered quest for things I'd not heard of: Love and Rockets (two albums of YAY! and then Oh, Boy); Frank Zappa (I managed to choose possibly his least-loved entry Jazz From Hell); Big Audio Dynamite (they didn't always suck!); Sigue Sigue Sputnik (which you at least have to admit is a screamingly awesome cultural document--this is the 1980s distilled into its purest form).

This of course also led to other horrible missteps. Whither Clan of Xymox? Whence 808 State? What the fuck, Flesh for Lulu? Should I lay this all at the feet of poor Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding?

I fear I must. But I do so with thanks.

What's with all this? Well, see, my 37th birthday was this last Saturday, and to my delight, the wife purchased for me, among other things, this XTC box set called Coat of Many Cupboards, one of those dealies which collects old album singles, home demos, band demos and versions of songs played while encased in cobalt and all that. I was looking over the thing fondly, and I recalled that fateful moment when my friend handed over Skylarking, and I remember the unalloyed joy of playing that album, over and over in my room, and trying my level best as a dipshit high school brain case trying utterly without success to get my few friends to understand why it was great, and damn it if I found myself shockingly close to tears with the memory. The memory of the frustration, of feeling I'd connected with something, and as far as anyone else was concerned, I was making mysterious semaphores from an ugly boat nobody wanted to get near.

So there you go. An old, old story: the adolescent disconnect. It might as well be a story about a car, or about my first at-bat in baseball, or about sexual confusion. But that's the best thing about rock music--or, fuck that--any music. It's about all of it. None of Skylarking is about any of that, really--the best thing about Skylarking is that it's about me, as far as I'm concerned. Skylarking tells me my own story, and if I may be selfish like all of us must be sometimes, I can never hear it enough.

I tried to think of an elegant way to get this last bit in, but damn it all if I can't. You know what the hell of it is? English Settlement really is better than Skylarking. But there is also truth to the old saying: You never forget the first time you fall in love.

Thursday, 21 July
Might As Well Jump

I apologize to my tens of readers for the long delay in posts, but you see, last night the wife returned home from her Connecticut safari, and really, thank God, because I was just about out of clean whiskey glasses. (Okay, you got me, I was way out of clean glasses. Having run through all of our bowls as well, by Monday evening, I was drinking Bushmill's out of an old tire. Which, I am happy to report, has been thoroughly cleaned now. By the wife. Her hands look like cooked shrimp now, but at least I'm not finding slivers of steel belting in my gums any more.)

It was fairly horrible while she was away, and not just because of the substandard whiskey receptacles: I possess, after all, a theater major, and so naturally spent a few years drinking moonshine directly from the rancid toilet bowls of hillbillies--we've all been there. (Any of you guys been to Hector's, down in the holla? You know the place--he's the guy who decorates his gin toilet with Chiquita banana stickers, and sometimes pisses on the back of your head when you're leaning down for a slurp. That guy!)

But I'm glad to say that it wasn't all horrible. This last Monday I took the old hacksaw to the prison-imposed ankle device that I assure you I wear only as a fashion statement, and went out for a rocking and rollery concert! A delightful band was playing nearby called the Go! Team, whom I do adore for their odd car-crash dancy songs that feature elements of practically everything--I wouldn't have been surprised had someone started playing a lawnmower onstage.

But first, of course, we had to endure the opening bands. Why? Why do we put up with these oafs? Nobody knows.

We got a weird rap band of sorts first up, which prompted this comment from me: "This is what Smash Mouth would be if they were a hip-hop group." For some reason, the DJ members of these bands always depress me. They're stuck there behind those damn turntables, unable to move or do anything interesting except exude utter coolness, and I always get this fantasy about going down and smashing all their records while they wail like Burgess Meredith when he busts his glasses at the end of the world, and he can't read any books after all.

I sure am a swell guy. Anyway, that went on for entirely too long. Then the next band that nobody in the whole building except for those skeevy blondes who inevitably crowd any stage cares about came on, and they performed what sounded an awful lot like old ABC songs to me. A couple of my friends announced their intention to go across the street to a local dive. "The beer is cheaper there, and it's not 1987 either. We'll come back at 11:30." Sigh. The crowd was clappable and nice and all that, but Jesus. Opening bands.

And you also have to understand what a deeply weird town this is when it comes to music: we are famous for NOT DANCING. For anyone. I swear to you that Bootsy Collins could show up in your private basement party and rip off some unbelievably funky bass riff that practically sets your nuts on fire, and most Seattleites would simply nod their heads up and down, standing in place. We should all be forced to wear monocles and starched collars in public. This is how non-dancey and hopelessly too-cool we are. The grunge sensation--for who wanted to dance to grunge? And who was even physically capable of it?--has a lot to answer for. It basically exsanguinated the entire musical community. How the fuck do you dance to the Screaming Trees?

I watched the Go! Team do their thing as I did--yes--my own chin-nod horseshit along to the great songs from the balcony. I started to get really into it, and, bless my soul, found myself jigging around with my hips, and shuffling my feet. Others around me were doing the same, and the band members were trading off instruments like they were baseball cards, and everyone played everything, except for that one hot drummer girl--for are not female drummers hot?--and besides, they had two drummers anyway!

And at one point--being on the balcony--I looked out over the crowd. It was thrilling. Because they were moving. Up and down, they were going crazy! Lester Bangs described in a great article about the Clash how pogoing is a totally natural reaction when you're in a crowd where lateral movement is not an option, and while I wasn't seeing Clash-like vehemence, what I was seeing was a transformation of a dead-eyed, head-nodding bunch of goobs into a very improbable mass of people moving, moving. It made me grin. And it made me jump up and down.

We ask a lot of things from music. It's rare that we get any of it. But sometimes you get to--have to--jump up and down.

Thursday, 03 June
Failing, It Takes Me Away

So briefly this evening the wife and I tuned into another VH1 abortion, called something like "The Awesomest [oy] Bad Rock Songs Ever." This was a typical lo-fi VH1 hairball where who-dat? comedians slagged on bad rock songs, mostly from the last 20 years, because apparently popular culture has adopted the lifespan of a mayfly: Birth, purchase questionable pants, sweat-fuck Tawny Kitaen, find self beneath dirt. The list was lifted from the all-blogged Blender magazine list, which I never bothered to read in full, so this is probably not news to anyone; I certainly never paid it any attention because lists like these are always arbitrary and impossibly dumb. The point--if any--seemed to be, "Let's pick entirely horrid songs and make fun of them." This is not exactly heavy lifting, especially when such broad targets as Limp Bizkit or Wang Chung enter into things. I should know. I've made fun of them before, and it is easy, thank God--I'm very lazy. But that's not the point. Did the list have to be so fucking obvious and mirthless and weak?

Their number one pick was Starship's "We Built This City." But everyone knew that was a terrible song, even when it came out, just like everyone knows that this Pink person is a horrible hack, or that J.Lo is only tolerated because of her startling ass. It's not very nuanced is what I'm saying. "We Built This City"? Come on. Where are the acts I've mocked before? Where is Toto? "Rosanna"? "Africa"? How about Neil Diamond (arguably not rock, I guess, but if we're talking not-rock, it's hard to get snitty when you're including Starship)? "America" is a deeply embarrassing song, if only for Diamond's frankly incredibly bombastic, leather-lunged delivery; and then there's "Heartlight," which sounds a lot like he's undergoing thoracic surgery. "Turn on your HEART LIGHT!" he screams, and I always expect him to continue, "Please remove THE BLOCKAGE!"

I don't really blame VH1 or this Blender rag for blowing off horrid music that is under their audience radar, as it would just cost them money. But I do get sad that some of our respected "alternative" or "indie" or "covered in piss" artists don't get recognized for their horrifying failures. No love for Tones On Tail's skeevy "Slender Fungus"? Come on! That's an abysmal song! "Slender fungus kiss the fish inside a stolen jeep." These lyrics are perhaps the reason that Bela Lugosi is dead.

Okay, forget it, fuck the nobodies. How about the legends? Are they represented? I doubt it. (I couldn't muster up the gumption to actually look at the whole list, so I don't know.) I'm willing to bet that the Rolling Stones weren't on there for things like "Turd on the Run," which sounds like it was recorded under an upturned iron bathtub, and oh, is also called "Turd on the Run." Or how about the sonic masterpiece of "She's A Rainbow," which is like a sonic itchy suit.

Led Zeppelin is forever responsible for "Immigrant Song," which sounds a lot like someone forced to recite Tolkein while being assaulted with a belt sander. "AAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!" Indeed! Tell me about the land of ice and snow. But at least Zep had a reputation for incredibly stupid songs, so it didn't really make any noticable dent.

The Doors? Eternally committed to vinyl is "The End," possibly the most hilarious example of unfortunate undergraduate prose ever committed to posterity. "I WANT TO KILL YOU!" Hey, that's interesting! I want to laugh at you! I like to imagine listening to this song with Sylvia Plath, and I imagine her going, "Jeez, what a tool. I want to live!" Then I play her the song again. "Scratch that, I'll die."

How about the infallible Beatles? No. You can blame a lot of horrible shit on Paul, such as, say, "She's Leaving Home," which would give anyone cavities, but John frequently fares no better. You can't tell me that "Revolution 9" is a real song any more than you can tell me that flip-flops are actually dress shoes. I'm pretty stupid, but come on. This is also the same band that countenanced "Piggies," a trenchant little ditty that managed to notice that some politicians are corrupt.

Even my favorite band of all time, The Who, recorded howlingly terrible songs. "Baba O'Reilly" is probably my favorite song of all time, but Jesus God: they were also responsible for puke-tastic "Cousin Kevin" or the unbelievably wretched "Christmas" (both off of Tommy), songs so worthless that even the band recognized were hair-raisingly horrible, and quietly didn't perform for years.

The whole thing is just silly (not that I mind silly). Part of the fun of these things is to shriek with disbelief at the noninclusions (and I again state that I didn't bother to read the whole thing). Where is John Parr? Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" was worse than the utterly reprehensible "To Kill A Hooker" by NWA? Deep Blue Something's utterly somnabulistic "Breakfast at Tiffany's" was somehow more forgettable than Dada's no-cal song "Dizz Knee Land"? And how do you even try to compare thinglets like Chuck Berry's intolerable "My Ding-A-Ling" versus Kip Winger allegedly singing about "Madelaine"? You can't!

You can't do anything.

The best that you can do? The best that you can do? Is fall in love.

Monday, 08 March
When Einstrzende Neubauten Seems Twee . . .

I still have not been able to hook up the home computer, thanks to some unresponsive phone jacks, so in the meantime I will simply regale you with some song titles from what I can only assume is the most terrible band in history. Friends, I give you Anal Cunt.

I Like It When You Die


1. Jack Kevorkian Is Cool
2. Valujet
3. You've Got No Friends
4. You Keep a Diary
5. You Own a Store
6. You Got Date Raped
7. Recycling Is Gay
8. You're a Cop
9. You Can't Shut Up
10. You've Got Cancer
11. We Just Disagree
12. Hungry Hungry Hippos
13. You Are an Interior Decorator
14. Pottery's Gay
15. Rich Goyette Is Gay
16. Branscombe Richmond
17. You Live in Allston
18. You Are a Good Food Critic
19. Just the Two of Us
20. Your Band's in the Cut-Out Bin
21. You're Gay
22. You Look Adopted
23. Your Cousin Is George Lynch
24. You Have Goals
25. You Drive an Iroc
26. You Play on a Softball Team
27. Because You're Old
28. You Sell Cologne
29. Being a Cobbler Is Dumb
30. You Live in a Houseboat
31. Richard Butler
32. 311 Sucks
33. Your Kid Is Deformed
34. You Are an Orphan
35. You're Old (Fuck You)
36. You Go to Art School
37. You're Best Friend Is You
38. You're in a Coma
39. Windchimes Are Gay
40. No, We Don't Want to Do a Splait Seven Inch With Your Stupid Fucking Band
41. Ren Auberjonois
42. Internet Is Gay
43. Ha, Ha Your Wife Left You
44. Hootie and the Blowfish
45. You Went to See Dishwalla and Everclear (You're Gay)
46. Locking Drop Dead in McDonalds
47. Technology's Gay
48. Your Favorite Band Is Supertramp
49. I'm in Anal Cunt
50. You (Fill in the Blank)
51. Kyle from Incantation Has a Mustache
52. Bonus Track #3

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Picnic of Love

1. Picnic of Love
2. Greed Is Something That We Don't Need
3. I Wanna Grow Old With You
4. I'd Love to Have Your Daughter's Hand in Marriage
5. I Couldn't Afford to Buy You a Present (So I Wrote You This Song)
6. Waterfall Wishes
7. I'm Not That Kind of Boy
8. Saving Ourselves for Marriage
9. I Respect Your Feelings as a Woman and a Human
10. In My Heart There's a Star Named After You
11. [Untitled]

Oh, poo! I thought these were angry lads, but look! They're very sweet! Oh, the poignancy of [Untitled]!

Bonus Amazon commenter: These are some of the most heartfelt ballads of any rock band I've ever heard, which includes the hits of Styx and Winger. Rock, On, A.C., and may Jesus our Saviour bless thee!!!

Amen, brother!

Hopefully after tomorrow night, when Qwest is finished violently boning me for repair fees, I can get back on a more reg'lar-type posting regimen.

Wednesday, 03 March
The Worst Of The Best Of

20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Ready for the World

Bafflingly, the equation "Prince x 5 = 5 Times the enjoyment of Prince" is clearly untrue.

Bonus Amazon customer review quote: "Much love for Ready for the World, because they are my favorite group. I would give them 100 stars, more than 5 stars. They sounded so romantic and I like to listen to them everyday!"

Obsession: The Best of Animotion

The title says it all. No, seriously. "Obsession" was the best of Animotion, period, as they promptly all died of the flux moments after the song hit big.

Bonus Amazon customer review comment: "Wow! What a rippen cd. This is the best band that ever lived in the history of pop music. Drums are the best drums in the whole world. He's better than Dave Weckl, Billy Cobham, and Buddy Rich combined. This band is a complete expierience of pop sensation. BUY THIS CD KNOW!"

For various reasons, these sentences comprise the best prose ever written. Though it does make me sad knowing that nobody will ever compare me to Dave Weckl. For those who have no idea who Dave Weckl is, like me, you should buy his CDs know.

Bonus BONUS Amazon customer review comment: "This album would rate four or higher if it weren't missing I Engineer, which to me, is the best song ever performed by Animotion. You would think The Best of... would contain I Engineer."

Track 4: "I Engineer"

Murray Head - Greatest Hits

Interestingly, this "Greatest Hits" album contains nothing from Jesus Christ Superstar, which is a shame, since hearing Judas screech out "If you'd come today you could have reached the whole nation/ Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication!" is a real hoot.

Instead, you get the wildly improbable hit "One Night in Bangkok" and a bunch of other mystifying horseshit, including something called "Mo Mystery," which unfortunately makes me think of the very unmysterious Mo Vaughn.

Bonus Amazon customer review comment: None.

Very Best of Ram Jam

Oh dear. Remember this band and their witless cover of Leadbelly's "Black Betty"? No? You must not have seen a theatrical trailer in the last twenty years. Also included is the beguilingly titled "404," leading me to believe that this awful band was ahead of its time in cataloguing the nameless dread of hitting a dead end on the internet.

Bonus Amazon customer review comment: "What a great CD! Their first 2 albums on 1 disc. The classic Black Betty rocks! Every song on this CD is hard rockin' at it's best. Tell you the truth, I didn't know they had a second album release until I bought this."

Fulsome praise indeed.

Europe 1982-1992

So titled because if you play "The Final Countdown," it will seem to last for ten years before it is over.

Bonus Amazon customer review comment: "Joey Tempest has a great voice and is also a good keyboard player, as we can hear on the tracks from the two first EUROPE albums. Both John Norum and his replacement in 1986, Kee Marcello are excellent guitarists. Mic Michaeli does well with his keyboard work, and Tony Reno and Ian Haugland are some of the world's best drummers. John Levn is a skilful bassist."

Poor John Leven gets damned with faint praise compared to his legendary bandmates, but I suppose that's to be expected.

Spaced Out: The Best of Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner

Flee for your lives. This terrifying album, in addition to proving that God is wrathful, also demonstrates that nobody is allowed to die before recording a cover of "Both Sides Now" and "Everybody's Talkin'."

Incense and Peppermints [Collection]--Strawberry Alarm Clock

Included merely because I was bummed out that there wasn't a "Best of" album for Lothar and the Hand People.

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Rock on, man.


[The idea for this post is courtesy of my pal Kafkaesque, who is a real mensch for letting me steal it.]

Friday, 19 December
Results!

Well, that was fun, at least for me, anyway. Thanks to all who played. The big winner is a frightening lunatic named J. Rogers, who actually responded with an answer for all 25.

Some things became clear almost immediately: for one, I should never have used "silver spoon," as it is a pretty stock phrase, and shows up in multiple songs, like "Gold Dust Woman" and Everlast's "What It's Like." Second, NOBODY got my original reference for the phrase "stand naked," which was Bob Dylan's "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," but even worse, our winner made me feel plank-stupid by noticing that the same phrase is used in The Who's "Bargain." The most common trip-up was thinking of "Your Momma Don't Dance and Your Daddy Don't Rock and Roll" for "don't dance," but I specifically said I wouldn't use phrases that were completely used in titles. I was actually thinking of "Safety Dance" when I wrote it, but I could have picked a better one that that, I think.

Anyway! Here are the complete answers. And to those of you who responded with challenges of your own: I thank you for making me realize how much I suck for doing this in the first place. What a pain in the ass these are.

1. choking smokers--The Beatles, "I Am the Walrus"
2. devil too--XTC, "Dear God"
3. grey eyes--New Order, "Temptation"
4. fruit cage--Peter Gabriel "Sledgehammer"
5. supple wrist--The Who, "Pinball Wizard"
6. silver spoon--Harry Chapin, "Cat's in the Cradle"
7. sixty-five degrees--Talking Heads, "Burning Down the House"
8. watch dynasty--Prince, "Kiss"
9. needs sweeping--The Beatles, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
10. halfway there--Bon Jovi, "Livin' On A Prayer"
11. done died--Aerosmith, "Sweet Emotion"
12. god money--Nine Inch Nails, "Head Like A Hole"
13. don't dance--Men Without Hats, "Safety Dance"
14. face north--REM, "Stand"
15. stand naked--Bob Dylan, "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)"
16. baggage carousel--Squeeze, "Tempted"
17. city walls--U2, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
18. slicing up--Pixies, "Debaser"
19. loves horses--Tom Petty, "Free Fallin'"
20. hickory stump--Charlie Daniels, "Devil Went Down to Georgia"
21. 'til touchdown--Elton John, "Rocket Man"
22. be double--The Clash, "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"
23. lost myself--Radiohead, "Karma Police"
24. late September--Rod Stewart, "Maggie May"
25. be abused--Eurythmics, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"

Congratulations to J. "Mr." Rogers! Send me your address, and I'll send you something crappy, like a box of lizards!

Thursday, 18 December
T Minus Two Words

As I was walking home today from work, a familiar set of sensations came over me: I listen to music in my head a lot, and my internal jukebox likes to mix up songs without much regard as to how they fit together. Sometimes someone--a coworker, a friend--will say something that sets off a song in my brain (say, for example, someone says, "roped and tied," and I'll have Elton John's "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" in my head for hours), and as my loony head spun, I began to wonder: Is it possible that there are certain irreducible phrases that can conjure up whole pop songs? Could only two words, say, bring up a whole song? And would it be so for other, possibly non-loony people?

So I set about a totally nonscientific, totally bullshit endeavor: I tried to imagine mere two-word phrases or phraselets that could possibly evoke an entire pop song. I of course avoided titles: How hard would it be to figure out something like "California Girls"? I also avoided pop chorus phrases that were terribly obvious or clearly rhymed with the titles, like say "graveyard smash."

So what I tried to do was to think of unique two-word phrases that could only refer to one specific pop song. And then I wondered how people would deal with it, given that I was by definition working out of context (though I altered no grammar, syntax or anything; I also did not obfuscate things, I hope, by ramming together words that didn't belong with one another). I just tried to think of certain two-word phrases (and hopefully without many articles) that seemed to embody, typify, or just clearly identify certain well-known songs.

I've probably fucked it all up, but hey. And if I had any clue how to make radio buttons, or text fields, this would all be cleaner, but I don't, so you're stuck with me: If it moves you to do so, take the quiz, and email me your guesses/comments at Skot(AT)izzlepfaff.com. The winner will receive . . . uh . . . something weird from me! In the (unfortunately very likely) case that there are multiple candidates for my two-word hints, I will award points once I verify the correct lyrics via Google. In any case, these songs were either hits, or have become more or less ubiquitously classic. Wording is important. But sorry, I get to be the final arbiter.

Final pointers: I tried very hard to make these unique, two-word lyrical singularities, but I probably failed. But if you can make the case that there was another popular song that used the EXACT same words, I'll cough up a point (Different cases or alternate plurals or altered wordings aren't going to fly). But just know that, for the most part, these are all pretty commonly known songs from the past 30 years, and except for a couple entries, aren't that sneaky--though I wonder at what I'll be seeing. Bear it in mind that a crabby argument about how Desmond Choad and His Angry Toads once sang similar lyrics to what I list are unlikely to carry much weight.

And finally: This is kind of a "hey, shiny thing!" for me. I don't intend it to be a real biggie. If I fuck it all up, I'm all to blame. I'm just kind of interested in seeing what comes of it. Again, everything from here on out is on me. Here's the list. I'm not worrying about punctuation or capitalization, and since for deviousness' sake, I don't want to clue anyone in as to where in a given lyric's place the snippet came, but do know this: I did not string together any misleading words or fuck with the word order. I may have messed with the timing of the flow, but these words all go together in their songs. And to those of you who might Google your brains out: I can't stop you, but you suck.

Here they are. Like I said, these are two-word phrases from well-recognized pop songs. Show me what you got. Some of these are (I think) easy. Some of them are totally diabolical (or, ah, I'm just a dumbass). At least that's what I say now. I had a good time with this. Let's see what happens. I'm really most excited to see how many people write, "WHAT? Not THAT song! That's from ANOTHER SONG!"

1. choking smokers
2. devil too
3. grey eyes
4. fruit cage
5. supple wrist
6. silver spoon
7. sixty-five degrees
8. watch dynasty
9. needs sweeping
10. halfway there
11. done died
12. god money
13. don't dance
14. face north
15. stand naked
16. baggage carousel
17. city walls
18. slicing up
19. loves horses
20. hickory stump
21. 'til touchdown
22. be double
23. lost myself
24. late September
25. be abused

P.S.--I thought I had caught the typo last night, but apparently it didn't stick. #4 is now corrected. It's one of the easy ones, I think.

Friday, 14 November
The Day In Music

During my workdays, I generally fire up the webstream of local station KEXP, whose mission is to play mostly indie rock, alongside whatever desperately weird shit that might be in dubious vogue. ("Here's a track from Emilio Esteves' new album of diesel trucks running over garbage cans, called Even Rabbits Vomit Sometimes.") It usually works pretty well--I get to listen to a lot of varied music that I might not hear, and I also get to feel marginally hip: "Hey, I'm listening to a band called Low Flying Owls! Nobody on Earth has ever heard of these weirdos . . . but I have!" An important part of hipness is being able to say things like this. John Cage is a good example: Go look at your record collection. No John Cage albums? Totally not hip. Plenty of John Cage albums that you never, ever listen to? Extremely hip.

Not that KEXP plays John Cage; after all, they do want people to actually listen to them. But they're coming close this morning. Mere minutes ago, they went from Dinosaur Jr.'s bewildering molestation of "Just Like Heaven" right into Sonic Youth's useless cornholing of "Ca Plane Pour Moi." Jesus, guys, they were already laughable songs. You didn't have to go and prove it.

I'll continue to monitor this situation as the day goes on, but I lack hope. In the intervening minutes, they have played songs by two bands with names I hate: Possum Dixon and Clem Snide. I'm a big believer in loathing bands simply for picking rotten names--for this reason, I have never been able to enjoy Travis, for example. It's just easier. Okay, sometimes I enjoy Travis, but it's difficult; I usually have to think about Gary Sandy's character from "WKRP in Cincinatti" while listening, which isn't cool: it's like thinking about baseball statistics during sex.

Update: now playing Cibo Matto's "Know Your Chicken." I know a ridiculous number of people who unaccountably love this terrible song, including my wife. I submit that they are all unhinged. (Love you, honey!) This is the trench mouth of songs.

Update: now playing is "Angry Inch" by Sleater-Kinney, who is joined by FRED SCHNEIDER. I don't know what the fuck is going on any more. Sleater-Kinney and Fred Schneider? It's like being served a juicy steak with a side of angry bees.

Update: time for a little Wilco, with "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart." I love this song, but at this point, Wilco is kind of the Poco of the indie pop world. They were massively popular for about ten minutes, and very soon nobody will ever listen to them again. In a similar vein, The Flaming Lips (and I like them too) are basically today's answer to the Electric Prunes.


Update: Mates of State, "Ha Ha." Reaction: Ugh Ugh. It's like neighbors shouting at each other through thin walls. But in the interest of not sounding like the world's crabbiest ass, a little while ago I was treated to RJD2's "The Horror," which is a blast. Q: Is a good song vastly improved by the addition of rhythmic "HEY!" callouts? A: Yes, always.

Update: INDIE HIPNESS CHECK! The Shins, and then the Decemberists. These bands bore me stupid. Why am I listening to this station again? Oh right: because the alternatives are things like The Mountain, whose MOR ghouls lie waiting for the telltale victim-scent of chai tea; or The End, the "alternative" radio equivalent of soft tissue damage.

Update: I kid you not, Low Flying Owls.

Not really an Update: I just saw a startling headline: China cracks down on rat poison murders. Will this oppressive regime stop at nothing to beat down its hapless people? Jesus, China, lighten up!

Update: Robyn Hitchcock! Who doesn't like a guy who sings about fish, megacephaly, and gay threeways? Insane people, that's who.

Wednesday, 12 November
The Holiday Spirit Attacks!

It's the holiday season, you hopeless bivalves! It's time to get into the spirit! Don't you watch television? Make with the fucking JOLLY, people! Don't make me send John Madden after you to gnaw on your cankles with his gigantic, awful teeth! I've even written you a new holiday classic to sing! Go pound on your neighbors' doors until they unlatch the deadbolts and stand there horrified while you lustily scream this song into their haunted, weeping faces! It's a gorgeous ode to the fucking QUEST FOR SANTA in the dire Arctic wasteland, for Christ's sake, sung to the tune of the immortal "Winter Wonderland!" GET TO IT! Spread some goddamn holiday cheer today or I'll set your fucking hair on fire! Happy holidays!

Over the ground lies a death-shroud of white
A Gehenna of zirconia
Shine down through the night
My heart is convulsing
Life signs waning, erratically pulsing . . .

Lashes freeze, they are cracking
In my feet, feeling lacking
A frightening white, I'm losing my sight
Walking in an Arctic tundra-land

Gone away are my senses
A bad rhyme here would be "menses"
I'm hypothermic, I can't feel my dick
Walking in an Arctic tundra-land

In the ice-white I can build an igloo
And pretend that I soon won't be dead
I'll sit there and curse that fat-ass Santa
I'd love to find him and remove his head

Later on I'll expire
As I fail to build a fire
I'm surrounded by white, I'm losing my sight
Dying in this arctic tundra-land.

Friday, 24 October
Missing Misery

The wife and I were driving home from rehearsal the other night when the local indie station told us the sad news about Elliott Smith. We were both pretty bummed out; I had always liked his sad, crabbily smart songs, and later that night I put the headphones on and listened to some favorites, like "Stupidity Tries" and "Waltz #2." I'll miss that papery keen and his penchant for Beatlesque string swells. I always wondered what it would be like if he and Aimee Mann tried their hand at collaboration: probably some gorgeous misery-orgy of an album along with one lone, snarky, evil perversity like a cover of "Muskrat Love." I'd buy that.

I grew up with a serious hard-on for pop music (my father warned me against never touching his new stereo until he realized that I treated it like a holy thing, and would sooner cut off my feet than harm it; after that, I had unlimited access to their vinyl, and sat for hours listening to The Who). But I never tried my hand at it, apart from some effort on my mom's part to teach me piano; because of my boundless laziness, I regarded the lessons as one step up from being slowly poisoned, so I soon quit, because it was irritating to me that I wasn't instantly good at it. But I was really excellent at sitting around and fucking off, so I enthusiastically embraced that as my hobby of choice.

So I never learned an instrument, and I never sang, either. I mean, I did some bullshit chorus stuff in junior high, but when I tripped into acting during college, I never even considered the musical route: for one thing, I detest musicals; earlier tonight someone was talking about seeing a production of Oklahoma!, and I offered that it would take six strong armed men to force me to watch that fucking thing. I'd rather be chewed to death by vampire Shriners.

But I have sung. I've been cast in shows where I had to sing, God help me, mostly terrible little throwaway numbers, or as a part of the ensemble, because, no shit, I'm not being falsely modest here, I really am not too good. I have no training at all; I smoke; I am profoundly unconfident; the idea of it makes me sweat pure uranium--so it's just not sensible for anyone to try and make me sing anything.

But a couple of years ago, I made the mistake of having an interesting idea: I had just stumbled across the Magnetic Fields' horrendously wonderful 3-disc 69 Love Songs, and I mentioned to my friend R. that it would be a pretty neat thing to do a Valentine's Day cabaret set featuring nothing but selections from the albums. He thought it was a great idea, and immediately set it up, scheduling three days in February for the event. He planned on singing himself, lined up two female friends for the project, and then--it was my idea!--asked me if I would be the fourth person to round out the show.

For unclear reasons, I agreed. This was deeply irrational and weird; as I said, I'm no singer. I have no training, and the whole prospect was terrifying: R. had also lined up a freakishly talented local band who specialized in a sort of ethereal chamber pop to do the music, and I clearly had no business on stage with any of them. It's no exaggeration that I was the most hopeless person involved.

And yet. He was offering me songs! Such songs! "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side"! "Yeah Oh Yeah"! "When My Boy Walks Down the Street"! And then I apparently went off my nut, because I was suddenly suggesting things: "Why didn't you pick 'Grand Canyon'? Or 'The Death of Ferdinand DeSaussure'? Those are great songs!" They were promptly given to me.

So there I was: self-fucked. How was I going to fucking DO THIS? The answer, as it turned out, was scotch. We kept a bottle of the stuff backstage (we were all pretty nervous), and there's nothing like a little Dutch courage to make situations seem suddenly less daunting. It has other side effects too.

On the night we recorded the performance on CD, I can be heard jabbering nonsense in the middle of "Luckiest Guy," and then blurting, "I seem to have forgotten that line!" At the end of the song, I inform the audience, "Come back tomorrow for the complete lyrics!" Similarly, later in the disc, R. and I are bulldozing our way through "Abigail, Belle of Kilronan, " and there's an amusing moment where we both kind of lose the momentum and then uncertainly fuck up coming back in on the melody, somehow sharing between us maybe six different keys: "Abi--" "ABIGA--" "--GAiiiil . . . " (chuckles) "ABIGAIIIIL!"

And yet, and yet. R. and I also performed a version of "Grand Canyon" that, well, is admittedly probably never going to set anyone's house on fire with its pyrotechnics or anything, but man alive, it sounds wonderful to me. It sounded wonderful doing it, and it sounded even more wonderful when a couple people told me that it had made them tear up. That might have been the most wonderful thing I've ever heard in my many hours in the theater: what actor doesn't want to move people to tears? (Weird actors, and I've known them: they hate audiences, and wish them ill, and have only contempt for them; they are, in my opinion, creepy and dangerous, and should be boiled.)

I don't know what the point of all this is. I'm just writing. I do know that I'll miss Mr. Smith and his lovely, plaintively literate songs. And I miss singing "Grand Canyon" in that way that you miss a good vacation when it's over. And I think it's good, though of course painful, to miss things, and people: it's part of remembering. You don't reminisce about things you never cared about in the first place.

If I was the Grand Canyon
I'd echo everything you say
But I'm just me
I'm only me
And you used to love me that way.

I know it's not Smith's lyrics. I'm just saying: I'll miss the echoes.

Tuesday, 05 August
Temporarily The Best Thing Ever

Sure signs that you've gotten snared by a song that isn't going to let you go for a while:

1. You take a bus half a mile out of your way to get the CD, which was released today--you were careful to note--going all the way up to 15th because your stupid neighborhood is rapidly going all to hell, and consequently, where before there were no less than five (5) music stores, there is now one (1), and it's tiny and mostly used stuff, and also because Fred Meyer doesn't count, because they sell only crap. I know that half a mile is not a long way to go, even just to walk, much less take a bus, but you have to realize how phenomenally lazy I really am. Sometimes I let my mail sit for months, waiting for natural entropic forces to open it for me.

2. In the interceding MONTH since you first heard the song on the radio and its accompanying CD release--a month? Jesus, don't release the song that far ahead!--you emailed your local radio station no less than three times with requests for the song, taking care each time to make sure it wasn't the same DJ over and over, because, you know, you don't want to come off creepy and obsessive to someone you don't know and will never meet. It's better to post on your weblog how creepy and obsessive you are, so your tens of readers can see instead.

3. Get home with CD and immediately begin torturing yourself with the sweet anticipation of hearing the song. Do not play it immediately, and in fact wait for your long-suffering wife to ask, "So did you get your CD today?" She knows about this because you have been talking about this song for the last month in the tones of a junkie who heard of a new amusement park called Smackland opening soon. Delay. Don't be sensible and race to the stereo. Put away the groceries. Pick lint off your feet (yeah, like you don't get foot lint). Idly wonder which is funnier, a meerkat or an echidna? Meanwhile, pretend you're not fiddling with the CD like a chittering ninny.

4. Finally, put in the CD. Turn it up loud and play it, casting furtive glances at the wife, because it's important that she like the song as much as you. In fact, you realize that it is